Can You Down Shift On A Motorcycle Without The Clutch?

motorcycle clutch lever

You hear riders talk all the time about shifting without a clutch, how much faster and smoother it is.Most of the time they are talking about upshifting, but what about the other direction?

Can you downshift on a motorcycle without the clutch? When riding your motorcycle it is possible to downshift without using the clutch. Just blip the throttle slightly to raise your engine’s RPMs while applying a slight downward pressure on the gear lever. If done correctly, the gear will slip into place smoothly.

That is an overly simplified answer. There are various things to take into consideration before you decide to go out there and try it. Let’s discuss them.

What does the clutch actually do?

One of the most important skills all motorcyclists must learn is clutch control. What does this mean and what does the clutch actually do? Without going into too much detail. Basically the job of your clutch is to temporarily disengage the engine from the transmission.

Inside the clutch there are a series of friction plates. When you pull on the clutch lever, the clutch cable removes the pressure on these plates. This then allows the flywheel to spin freely. The point at which they start to grab, is called the friction point. This is key to controlling your motorcycle and changing gears.

This is just the basics of what a clutch is and what it does. To go into more detail would involve talking in depth about the transmission, boring the pants off anyone reading this and getting us off track.

Is shifting a motorcycle without the clutch bad?

This is a heated topic, with two sides divided on the correct answer. I will go over both sides and give you my opinion after.

There is a school of thought that says; “yes, it is bad”. Their main argument is that when you down shift, by changing the gears down, the engine is under an increased amount of force or torque.

This is caused by the change in RPMs relative to the selected gear ratio. This is completely normal, fine and is what causes engine braking to slow your motorcycle down.

When you use your clutch normally and correctly, it is a smooth and painless process that you hardly notice. Without the clutch however, it becomes anything but.

The gears crunch and are forced to rub against each other. All while being subjected to the full force or torque of the engine while engine braking. Causing premature wear on all parts involved.

On top of this, you run the chance of your rear tire locking up and causing control issues.

Whether this is true is up for debate. The other side says; “nope, not a problem, been doing it for years, never had an issue”. Their argument is that most motorcycle clutches are “wet” clutches, and if you do it correctly it will be fine.

This is because the whole clutch assembly is filled with oil, which means they are designed for this type of use. Because the clutch plates and flywheel are meant to rub and slip partially in and out of gear, that’s why you can feather the clutch.

Something that would burn out a dry clutch similar to what you find in a car. You just need to do it correctly.

Personally, I lean towards the “ok in moderation” camp. If done correctly it shouldn’t cause too many issues. The problem is, you need to learn how to do it. During this learning process, you will make mistakes.

These mistakes will not be the best for the plates in your clutch and probably will cause premature wear and tear. So if you wanna do it, you do you. Just know that it might cost you a bit of cash if you mess up too often.

How to down shift on my motorcycle without a clutch?

While it is not terribly difficult to do. You need to follow a specific set of steps to do it correctly. If you do decide to learn how to do this, please take the time and practice it first somewhere safe.

Try an empty parking lot or a small side street without any traffic or pedestrians. Don’t just head off into traffic trying this, it’s not a safe or smart idea.

Ok, let’s go over the 4 steps needed to correctly down shift without a clutch:

  1. Start to apply a slight downward force on your gear selector. Make sure not to apply too much pressure. You don’t want to press enough that you start to hear grinding, that is not a good thing for your motorcycle. The amount of pressure needs to be just at the edge before it starts to grind or actually changes the gear.
  2. Blip the throttle, just like you would normally if rev matching. This is done to prevent your rear tire from locking up, as well as to remove some of the torque.
  3. Right after you blip the throttle, roll off the throttle. You want to have as little torque as possible when you move on to the next step.
  4. While the RPMs are still up, start to gradually increasing the pressure on the gear lever. If done correctly, then you should feel it gently slip into gear. Don’t force it, you shouldn’t experience any significant resistance or hear any grinding sounds. If you do, stop and start over from the beginning.

It might seem strange, but after a while you will get the hang of it.

What about up shifting, can it be done without a clutch as well?

Of course it can, in fact, it’s probably easier to do. Just like with down shifting though, if done incorrectly it can possibly harm your motorcycle. So take that into consideration.

I have to admit, I do this fairly often when riding in traffic. Sometimes without even thinking about it. You’re just riding along, got your foot ready to shift up. Let off on the throttle. Whoops, a bit too much pressure, gear slips into a new gear. It happens.

Again, if you decide to try this. Practice it first in a parking lot or on a side street without cars or pedestrians. Be safe about it.

Lets go over the steps, they are pretty much the same. Just with a slight change:

  1. Start to apply upward pressure on the gear lever. Not to much.
  2. Roll off the throttle. You don’t want higher RPMs here. You want as little torque on the gears as possible.
  3. Increase pressure gradually, until you feel it slip into gear.

Final thoughts:

As far as the question. Can you down shift on a motorcycle without the clutch? The simple answer is yes, quite easily. In fact, you can even up shift without a clutch as well.

The bigger question is whether or not you should. Well, you will hear people who say they have been doing this for 30 years. Never had a problem. Others will say, if you do you’re flat out going to ruin your clutch and transmission. Possibly even make babies cry.

I’ve always been a person that believes in moderation. You can generally do anything you want, provided you keep to doing it in moderation. The same can be said about shifting up or down without a clutch.

In small doses and done correctly, I doubt it would cause any harm whatsoever. I’m pretty sure if done correctly, it won’t cause any serious issues, but the key is when “done correctly”.

Personally not wanting to risk causing damage to my motorcycle, I’ll stick to keeping it to a minimum.

At the end of the day, this is just one guy’s opinion. I’ve tried my best to lay the facts out and give you both sides of the argument. It’s up to you to figure out what makes sense to you. Safe riding and see you soon!

Jordan Baker

Hi, I’m Jordan. I’ve been riding motorcycles for a few years now(9+ years). Along the way I’ve learned a bunch, made mistakes and picked up a thing or two. I’ve also spent countless hours practicing and working on improving my skills, something I try to do a few times a week. That’s why I made this website. So I can share my love for riding and everything I’ve learned over the years. Hopefully you’ll stick around and check out a few articles.

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